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Co-design is a well-established approach to creative practice, particularly within the public sector. It has its roots in the participatory design techniques developed in Scandinavia in the 1970s. Co-design is often used as an umbrella term for participatory, co-creation and open design processes.

Co-design reflects a fundamental change in the traditional designer-client relationship. The co-design approach enables a wide range of people to make a creative contribution in the formulation and solution of a problem.

This approach goes beyond consultation by building and deepening equal collaboration between citizens affected by, or attempting to, resolve a particular challenge. A key tenet of co-design is that users, as 'experts' of their own experience, become central to the design process.

The role of facilitation (usually undertaken or coordinated by designers) is an essential component of a successful co-design project. Facilitators provide ways for people to engage with each other as well as providing ways to communicate, be creative, share insights and test out new ideas.

A wide range of tools and techniques are available to support the co-design process, these can help participants create user personas, storyboards and user journeys. Potential solutions can be tested through prototyping and scenario generation techniques. The Service Design Tools site based on the work of Roberta Tassi provides a good selection of co-design tools.

The immediate benefits of employing a co-design approach include:

  • Generation of better ideas with a high degree of originality and user value
  • Improved knowledge of customer or user needs
  • Immediate validation of ideas or concepts
  • Higher quality, better differentiated products or services
  • More efficient decision making
  • Lower development costs and reduced development time
  • Better cooperation between different people or organisations, and across disciplines

The longer-term benefits include:

  • Higher degrees of satisfaction of, and loyalty from, customers and users
  • Increased levels of support and enthusiasm for innovation and change
  • Better relationships between the product or service provider and their customers

Hospital staff work with models to test out ideas for the layout of a new treatment centre.

A great example of co-design in action is the work undertaken by the design agency TILT with the Whittington Hospital in London. Bringing together a team of patients, staff, doctors and senior management they co-designed the hospital's pharmacy service. The redesigned service reduced waiting times, improved patient experience and boosted staff morale. The agency were subsequently invited back to use the same methods to help create a new same-day acute treatment centre.


Steen, M., Manschot, M., & De Koning, N. (2011). Benefits of co-design in service design projects. International Journal of Design, 5(2), 53-60.

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